Steve Martin grew up on his dad Howard’s farm raising tobacco, corn, wheat and soybeans. After trying no-till farming in the early 1970s, Howard Martin wasn’t satisfied with the results he was seeing. Roughly a decade later, he decided to give it another try.But the combination of hard pan and thick residue in the soil caused it to remain moist through the corn planting season. This condition was leading to stands that were only 40-50% of what they should have been. A study done by Iowa State University about the correlation between crop residue and soil temperature made Howard want to find a solution to their problem. Howard knew if he could find a way to push the residue aside and help the soil dry faster, he could raise the soil temperature and improve stands.In the winter of 1983, he started working on what is now known as the Martin Row Cleaner. In the spring of 1984, he successfully tested his new invention and began manufacturing the row cleaners in 1991. Only one year later, he was supplying equipment to farmers across more than a dozen U.S. states.But their success didn’t come without having to face some tough times and adversity trying to make a living on the farm. Steve and his brother often worked around the clock harvesting and planting while also trying to find a balance with school.
Howard Martin, founder of Martin Industries patented the first ground-driven trotary row cleaner in 1988.
Steve Martin, Howard's son, is now president of Martin Industries.
Steve says that despite his dad’s successful idea, he was never really a manufacturing guy, just a farmer with an inventive mind who wanted to find a good solution to a tough problem.“We used to have conversations about that term, thinking outside the box,” Steve says. “And he would make the comment, ‘Well, if you were never taught what the box is, you don’t know you’re not thinking outside of it.’”Howard was also motivated by the need to provide for his family during a pretty hard time in the early 1980s.“That was a pretty tough time. When I was a senior in high school, we had to let go of some ground and some equipment and restructure,” Steve says. “And that was about the time Dad really just kind of buckled down and honed in on this row cleaner. I also remember he didn’t even have a pickup truck. What farmer doesn’t have a pickup truck? But that’s the kind of man he is. He puts everybody else in front.”Luckily for Howard, Steve was more gifted in the design and manufacturing side of the business. It would be his job, with the help of his brother, to handle the manufacturing and physical production of the parts for Howard’s row cleaner idea.Steve recalls going to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville with just one prototype they had built the way they wanted, and the intention of showing it to farmers and manufacturers to spark some interest in their product.Not knowing what to expect, Steve says it became evident pretty quickly that there was actually quite a lot of interest in their row cleaner.“I see him over there and people passing checks and stuff and I’m getting more and more nervous because I know when I get home I gotta make that happen,” Steve says. “So I remember on the drive home he told me how much guys had paid him, and I was just blown away that they would trust a stranger with a check for something like that, from an unheard of company.”Another stroke of good fortune for the Martins came on the marketing side. They did not have much of a plan for how they would go to market with their row cleaner, but Steve says that God had a plan for them.“God lined everything up just right. It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Steve says. “The publicity (Howard) got for being a farmer, inventor and manufacturer carried us. He was always in the magazine about this or that. Plus, word of mouth. It takes a while, but word of mouth eventually works.”
Mackane Vogel is the Assistant Editor of Farm Equipment, No-Till Farmer, Cover Crop Strategies and other Lessiter Media publications. An avid writer for the last 10 years, he previously served as the editorial intern for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and also wrote for several different sports journalism outlets before joining the Lessiter Media team in 2022. Mackane is a 2020 journalism graduate of Marquette University.
On this episode of Conservation Ag Update, brought to you by CultivAce, we talk to East Troy, Wis., no-tiller Jim Stute as he wraps up corn harvest. Stute reflects on a challenging year and shares how he was able to conserve moisture with cereal rye.
Needham Ag understands the role of technology in making better use of limited resources within a specific environment by drawing on a wealth of global experience to overcome the challenges facing today's farmers, manufacturers and dealers.